Friday, October 30, 2009

Pivoine, Monzennakacho

Friday I took the day off from work to get legalized again - as they say, it's no fun being an illegal alien, and I'm not interested in deportation.  But getting legal doesn't take very long, and the weather and my spirits were both so good that I wanted to do something nice. There are several French places between the city hall and home, some quite highly rated, and I thought I'd try one of them.  This being Japan, they were both fully booked for lunch on a Friday. Then I thought of the two well-regarded Italian places in the neighborhood. And they're both closed at lunch. Emergent pattern? Thus I'm embarrassed to say that I ended up at Pivoine - embarrassed because I liked it a lot, even better than I remembered, and I think it would be worth your while to schlep over here and try it sometime.

The basic gimmick, as far as I'm concerned, is that the chef and waitress used to work at Merveille and struck out on their own (with some intervening spells, but never mind that). This means you get the same service, almost the same food, and a lot of the same atmosphere, but even cosier and a bit cheaper. In the past I wrote that the food wasn't quite up to the level of Merveille's Matsumoto. On this visit, within the confines of the simpler ingredients and techniques I chose (no stuffed quail en croute for lunch, y'know?), I thought it was really good.

I don't take pictures of bread for the most part. This bread is pretty good in a light and Japanese way, but I really wanted to make a point about the service. Tamura san heats up the bread before every service, which makes a tremendous difference. It's a little example of her attention to detail and attitude in service. With her consistent good spirits and lack of height (150cm would be generous, no?), the only word I can really think of is 'pixie'. In a good way.

After the rough Thursday night I had, something restorative was in order. And nothing is easier to digest and more restorative than cooked blood, right?!  This was Chef's individual interpretation - the usually sausage-shaped item was actually a slice of loaf, and was liberally spiked with curry. The assorted mushrooms on top were very seasonal and also well-prepared. This was a nice way to start, perfect for Fall.

Pumpkin soup is also perfect for fall. I won't pretend to be excited about it, but it was fresh, whipped up prettily, well-executed, and tasty. I just think soup is boring, especially when it's a straight broth or puree.

While simple, I like to think this was a masterpiece (I don't mean to be quite this flowery, but it was quite good). The main item is chicken; I'm unclear on the technique, but I think it's a skin-on boneless breast that's been stuffed somehow with mushroom puree, then fried all golden and brown. And delicious! The other items were sparse but exactly proportioned - a quarter of eggplant, living up to the Japanese proverb about it being too good for daughters-in-law, several other perfectly-roasted root vegetables, somehow charred and juicy at the same time, and just enough firm green leaf (top of one of the roots?) to balance things out. And a drizzle of sticky roasting juice. Geez, was this good? And it was chicken. I never like chicken this much.

Dessert was nothing extraordinary, but came together very well and with seasonal themes. The ice cream is milk flavored, the compote in the back is apple, and the pudding is sweet potato - with grainy bits left in, making it texturally much more interesting than a usual pudding. Again, much better than it had a right to be.

What do you think? The above 3.5 courses were Y3k at lunch; dinners start at Y4k for the basic course (same dish-count, but no choices). There aren't too many options because it's such a small neighborhood place that they must not be able to keep inventory and plan turnover, but if even the regular ingredients are going to get cooked this well, I don't much care. Chef really seems to have lifted his game since my last visit, already going on a year ago. I'll be visiting again, much sooner this time.

You were perhaps expecting a Thursday night post?

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